My friend Jenn was worrying the other day that I spend too much time alone. “I used to work from home”, she said to me: “it’s so easy for your world to shrink. Especially now we have mobile phones and the internet”. She has a point – for the last four years my work has been very solitary. And, completely self-directed. Rare face-time with employers and no work-mates have lead to me becoming very insular. Add to that friends who have left Cape Town, other friends becoming wrapped up in their own jobs and it could well be I spend too much time alone.
Or is it that I am an introvert? I have always suspected I could be – albeit one with extrovert abilities. When I put my mind to it, I can hold my own in most any social situation. I certainly used to do a job that meant interacting with thousands of people a year – and life on the road is seldom solitary. Not the ideal job choice for an introvert. But, according to Sophia Dembling, author of ‘The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World’: “Spotting the introvert can be harder than finding Waldo, a lot of introverts can pass as extroverts.”
Dembling believes that people are frequently unaware that they’re introverts – especially if they’re not shy (I am not). Dr. Marti Olsen Laney, psychotherapist and author of ‘The Introvert Advantage’ says “Introversion is a basic temperament, so the social aspect is really a small part of being an introvert. Introversion affects everything in your life.”
Jenn’s comment and my post on solo travel that got me thinking about all this. I have always classified my desire to ‘be alone’ as a reaction to the sheer demand of humans around me; esp. when I worked in the Music Biz. But maybe it wasn’t choice? Maybe – it was an innate personality trait instead.
One that the American Psychiatric Association (as recently as 2010) considered classifying as a personality disorder by listing it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), a manual used to diagnose mental illness. They didn’t, but their criteria have been turned into a checklist against which to measure our introversion – which I thought would be interesting to share.
1. You find small talk incredibly cumbersome. I can pass the time of day with anyone. But, only for a while. A whole party worth makes me want to shoot myself. “Introverts do not hate small talk because we dislike people,” Laurie Helgoe writes in “Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength. “We hate small talk because we hate the barrier it creates between people.” Laurie … no, it’s just boring
2. You go to parties – but not to meet people. Introverts apparently go to parties with the goal of spending time with people they know and like. The excitement of meeting “the one” or someone new is not the draw. A big YEP to this one
3. You often feel alone in a crowd. Nope. If I am not enjoying myself – I go home. (Introvert golden rule: always take your own car.)
4. Networking makes you feel like a phony. Yes. Horrible. Hate it. Embarrassing. Am useless at it.
5. You’ve been called ‘too intense’.“Introverts like to jump into the deep end,” says Dembling. Not really – but then I haven’t drunk vodka in decades.
6. Downtime doesn’t feel unproductive to you. Never.
7. Giving a talk in front of 500 people is less stressful than having to mingle with those people afterwards. Absolutely.
8. You’d rather be an expert at one thing than try to do everything. Nope – I like having a variety of skills.
9. You actively avoid any shows that might involve audience participation. What – like jumping up to do “The Time Warp” with audience members? Oh for sure. Unless I am with the nephew and nieces, then taking part, enthusiastically, is a moral imperative.
10. You notice details that others don’t. This I do. Research has found that introverts exhibit increased brain activity when processing visual information, as compared to extroverts.
11. You have a constantly running inner monologue. Yes – but happily: I only hear my voice.
12. You have low blood pressure. A 2006 Japanese study found that introverts tend to have lower blood pressure than their extroverted counterparts. And I do. Very low.
13. You’ve been called an “old soul” -– since your 20s. Nope. But wait: “Introverts tend to think hard and be analytical,” says Dembling. “That can make them seem wise.” I stand corrected. Wise Old Soul it is.
14. You’ve been told to “come out of your shell.” “Introverted adults often say that as children, they were told to come out of their shells or participate more in class.” Dembling again. Never had any problem with speaking up or standing up.
15. You alternate between phases of work and solitude, and periods of social activity. “When Introverts move around too much they get stressed and need to come back to themselves”, according to Olsen Laney. “They favour periods of heightened social activity balanced out with a periods of inwardness and solitude.” I should think so. I’m 53 for God’s sake. I’ve been around numerous blocks. The idea of staying out late terrifies me. If I had my way I would eat dinner at 6pm and be home by 8pm – ready to catch a couple hours of TV before bed.
Which gives me a grand total of 10 and a half out of 15. Which makes me 70% introvert
Dembling says that for us introverts “There’s a recovery point that seems to be correlated with how much interaction you’ve done. We all have our own private cycles.”
Amen, Sophia: and my cycle is set at ‘Old Fart’.
(All images in the public domain. Title** with apologies to Tim Leary.)